PROFILE: Taking a lead against genocide, ‘no society is immune’ warns Adama Dieng |


While serving in the role he’s helped strengthen the rule of law, fight impunity, and built up the capacity of judicial and democratic institutions around the globe. 

Sounding the alarm 

The mandate of the Special Adviser on Prevention of Genocide was established in 2004 to not only sound the alarm over situations that might lead to genocide but also leverage the whole UN system, to prevent such atrocity crimes from happening again. 

Having served as the Registrar of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for three consecutive terms, introducing key reforms to help the body prosecute those responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda, Mr. Dieng knew very well the gravity of the appointment. 

Claudia Diaz/UN

Special Adviser Adama Dieng meets with members of the Rohingya community during a visit to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. (March 2018)

Dedicated service 

In addition to his assignment at the ICTR, Mr. Dieng served as the UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti (1995-2000) and as Envoy of the UN Secretary-General to Malawi (1993). He also consulted for several UN and international organizations, including the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN human rights office (OHCHR), the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the African Union. 

After more than eight years in that role, the Senegalese jurist is stepping down, retiring from the service of the global Organization, turning his focus to strengthening transparency and rule of law across Africa as well as reinforcing the dialogue between civil society and major institutions in Africa.  

Still working towards global peace 

That said, Mr. Dieng has confirmed that he remains at the disposal of the UN Secretary-General for mediation missions, and he remains the UN chief’s representative to the global initiative led by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb on “human fraternity for world peace and living together”. 

No society is immune from atrocity crimes and their risk factors…the earlier and the deeper the seeds of atrocity crimes prevention are sowed, the better and more sustainable they will bear fruits

In his end-of-assignment report, he looks back at his tenure, his accomplishments and challenges. 

Translating concepts into reality  

One of his highest priorities in the role was “to translate the concept of genocide prevention as an international norm into a practical reality that can be implemented at the national and regional levels”, he writes. 

“In discharging my mandate, I was guided by my firm belief that no society is immune from atrocity crimes and their risk factors, and my conviction that the earlier and the deeper the seeds of atrocity crimes prevention are sowed, the better and more sustainable they will bear fruits.” 

UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

Special Adviser Adama Dieng briefs the Security council during its meeting on the situation in Sudan and South Sudan. (November 2016)

Early warning 

Under his leadership, the Office has established rigorous early warning methodology and verification protocols, to sound the alarms of the threat of genocide, in the Security Council and capitals around the world. 

He warned of the “eminence of genocide”, when the sirens went off in Myanmar, the Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, South Sudan and Iraq, and other crises, prompting the international community to act to save lives.  

“The impact and success of my mandate with regard to collecting and analyzing information, issuing early warnings, making recommendations to the Security Council and translating all this chain of measures into actual actions of atrocity crimes prevention, can be illustrated by the cases of the Central Africa Republic, South Sudan, and Mali; just to name a few”, recalls Mr. Dieng. 

‘Bottom-up approach’ to prevention 

Looking back, Mr. Dieng notes, “I have invested my efforts in adding to the existing top-down prevention mechanisms, a more bottom-up approach, focusing on national and regional capacity.” 

Over the past eight years, he has advocated for the universal ratification of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; supported national efforts to incorporate obligations under this convention; helped build national mechanisms to monitor accountability for preventing atrocity crimes; and provided training on prevention, to national and regional actors. 

Combatting hate speech 

The Special Adviser is also responsible for enhancing the Organization’s capacity on the prevention of genocide and other atrocity crimes.  

Towards this end, his Office developed the Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes: A tool for prevention, as well as supported several specialized initiatives to deal with specific themes or new risks of atrocity crimes.  

This includes the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech and the Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent incitement to Atrocity Crimes.  

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have issued policy guidance on addressing and countering COVID -19 related hate speech

“We have also taken the lead in organizing events to commemorate and honor the victims of genocide”, notes Mr. Dieng, adding: “In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have issued policy guidance on addressing and countering COVID -19 related hate speech.” 

Not without challenges 

The Special Adviser recalls that his work has not been without challenges. 

Some of them relate to the lack of sufficient funding and staff, together with a reluctance on the part of some Member States and UN interlocutors to collaborate with his team, and the institutional realities of a divided and often gridlocked Security Council. 

Referring to the impact of his early warning approach, Mr. Dieng adds: “The fact that the playbook my Office followed on early atrocity crimes prevention in South Sudan, Central Africa Republic, and Mali, did not bear the same enthusiasm and action in Myanmar and Syria proves, however, the challenging side of my mandate.” 

UN Photo/Isaac Billy

Special Adviser Adama Dieng meets with Riek Machar, former Vice President of South Sudan in the wake of mass killings in early April 2014 in Bentiu and Bor, South Sudan.

Moving forward 

For his successor, Mr. Dieng underlines several key priorities. 

These include increasing the resources, capacity, and reach of OSAPG; reassessing how the UN system as a whole should work to advance the principle of the Responsibility to Protect; and including the Special Adviser as a standing member of the Executive Committee. 

He highlighted the need to continue building and strengthening partnerships and collaboration with other parts of the UN focused on prevention, and investing in realizing the universal ratification of the genocide prevention convention; as well as strengthening cooperation with NGOs and amplifying the office’s work through the media. 

Future plans 

After a long service to the Organization, Mr. Dieng has over the past two years expressed his desire to turn his energy to new challenges while reaffirming his determination at the same time to continue to support the Secretary-General and his vision.  

In the immediate term, Mr. Dieng will return to his home continent, Africa, and focus on further promoting to the reinforcement of transparency and the rule of law, through PATROL, the Pan-African Alliance for the Rule of Law, in collaboration with the African Union (AU).  



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